He Nearly Killed the Cat
The Vital Questions
By Anne B. Walsh
How much longer should we wait?
John stopped at the top of the hill behind the cottage to catch his breath, pulling his water bottle out of its holster at his waist. He considered himself lucky to have a physique which stayed naturally lean, but his new profession required a higher level of physical fitness than he'd been accustomed to needing.
Because you never know who you'll be chasing, or what will be chasing you.
He drank several swallows of water, then poured a handful over his head, shaking off the excess as he would have in the lion's form which was now restored to him, courtesy of Eve's potion. Eve herself had declined to deliver the concoction, sending it by her partner Suzie instead. John was of two minds about the reason for this.
I could imagine that she's simply antisocial, or that she has something personal against me, but on the whole I prefer the first thing I thought of when Neenie told me one of her mentors was a redheaded witch. After all, doesn't every Legendbreaker have to come from some world, somewhere?
As well, the information Suzie had delivered along with the potion argued against Eve having a specific grudge against John.
I still can't believe I forgot. The one factor that has shaped my life more than any other—I brought it up myself, explaining why the twins are my "cubs"—and I never stopped to think how I was going to manage being alone in a house with them, without Danger, when the full moon came around again…
But, as he was slowly coming to understand, Outer Time was different.
The massive stone castle floating unsupported in outer space couldn't have given me a clue?
Domains, the homes of anywhere from one to seventeen Legendbreakers, obeyed the wills of their creators, as long as said creators had enough power to impose that will. Power could come from many sources: from the desire and belief of an individual Legendbreaker, from the mutual respect and understanding between a partnered pair, from the trust of a student for her teachers and the teachers' answering hope, or from the love of a couple, a family, or anything in between.
That's to start with. Then they go out and perform their missions, during which they try to improve people's lives. To give people more hope, more happiness, more freedom to choose their own path. If and when they succeed in that mission, some of the power that hope and happiness generates comes to them, and that's what keeps their domains running. A positive feedback loop.
But wherever the power came from, whether it was hope and happiness or magic or little green apples, as Suzie had reminded Neenie in her bluntest tones, "You run this place. You set it up on a familiar basis with the forest, with the sun, the rain, the wind, the moon, so you don't have to think about it every second of every day, but that doesn't mean you have to let it have its own way with everything."
In other words, if Neenie doesn't want the moon to be full, then the moon won't be full. Or I should say, if we don't want the moon to be full, since she's given us full co-ownership in the domain already.
The only hitch was that running the domain with a conscious intervention, such as skipping a particular moon phase, required significantly more power than simply allowing it to continue on its preset course.
It only makes sense. Even with magic, nothing comes for free.
Although they were still within acceptable limits on their power usage, he had noted a certain fuzziness in the air on the morning after what ought to have been their last full moon night, and was worried that in order to keep the domain going, Neenie, or Neenie and Fox together, might have to go on a mission before he was fit to go with them.
He chuckled at himself, starting his jog down the hill. And why, when they were the ones who rescued me, I'm fussing about them going on missions alone, I have no idea. Except that it's normal fatherly behavior, and if there's one thing I can do to help out around here, it's that. Love them, keep them happy, make things as normal as they get with us.
But there's only so much I can do by myself.
And that, John concluded, told him everything. If he was starting to feel the need for other company, then the wait needed to be over.
Ready or not, Inner Time, here we come.
What don't we know that we need to?
Fox lay at his ease in the little nest he'd woven high in a tree a few minutes' walk from the cottage. In his left hand, he held a branch of a precise length and thickness, and in his right a tool his father had made for him, a tiny lance of controlled fire. He wanted to be certain of his moves before he risked his one and only wand.
"There's the obvious things." He burned a hole in one of the stick's ends, as though he intended to remove its core. "What worlds our missing people are in, what parts of their lives they've been placed in—we don't even know if the ones who are in the same world have been placed at the same time. Might want to check if that would be feasible. But there's some stuff none of us even want to think about."
Like, what if one of them doesn't want to come? What if one of them was tired of us, tired of Pack or Pride or both, and just never had a chance to say so? Or what if one or more of them did get rehabilitated, drowned in the source personality? We don't know if it was just the Pack-oath that protected me, or if the twin-bond had something to do with it as well.
"Dad's a hopeful sign on that front." Following the markings he'd penciled onto the stick, Fox burned holes slightly smaller than his fingertips at carefully defined intervals, stopping when they intersected the central shaft. "Though I suppose his bond with Danger—with Mum, I guess we'll have to call her now—could have helped him out. And everybody's going to be different anyway. We can't know for sure about anyone until we get there and talk to them."
And in that case, why am I borrowing trouble? He blew hard on his stick, sending ashes flying in all directions. We'll either find them or we won't. They'll either still be themselves, or they won't. And they'll either want to come with us, or they won't. But that does lend itself to a problem it wouldn't hurt to think about right now.
Setting aside his current piece of work, Reynard closed his eyes. Softly, he whistled a few bars of one of the hundreds of songs which had been woven into his life with the Pack since the night he'd arrived, just shy of four years old, a frightened, confused, and badly spoiled little brat.
All in all, I think I turned out fairly well. Time to see if I can return the favor, or maybe pass it along.
He opened his eyes. Instead of his treetop nest, he lay now on soft green grass, the ground beneath him softer and more elastic than it should have been. The white-blond boy a few feet away looked up from his game of chase with a tricolored kitten and squealed. "Fox! You back!"
"Told you I would be, didn't I?" Fox made a beckoning gesture with one hand, and the little boy shrieked in delight as the ground tossed him into the air, depositing him with a bounce at Fox's side. The kitten regarded both of them for a moment, then turned to the supremely important business of washing her tail.
The boy put his hand over Fox's, looking at him with a confiding air. "Like you," he said. "Like you lot. No yell, no hit, no mad. P'ay wif me, p'ay wif Neenie." He motioned towards the kitten. "Like you lot."
"Thanks, D." Fox scooped the boy up and tossed him once, eliciting another happy shriek. "I like you too. Now, I have an important question to ask you." He sat up and settled the boy in his lap, smoothing his hand in a circular motion in front of them, what he thought of as the washing-the-windows gesture.
On the section of air he had "washed," a picture appeared, that of a man and a woman with their arms around each other, his gray-streaked head a few inches above her bushy brown mane, blue eyes and brown smiling out at the world. The boy turned to look up at Fox. "Who dat?" he demanded with no sign of surprise or fear.
Well, he was raised magic. He must have seen little shows like that his whole life. "That's my mum and dad, D. They're pretty special, and I like them a lot. How about you? Would you like to meet them?"
The boy looked suspicious, but slowly nodded.
I'll have to fake it, but at least it will give him an idea. Fox concentrated, calling up all his memories of his parents, then turning his picture three-dimensional and instilling those memories into the dream-figures as behavior patterns. If he doesn't like it, if he wants his own mum and dad back…
But I can't imagine he would. He set the little boy on his feet as dream-Danger came to life, dream-John only a step behind her. How could he even know? He never saw them except when his father was punishing him or his mother wanted to show him off. Plus, he's too little to have much of a memory. He'll go with the last person who was nice to him. And since no one ever was nice to him except the flipping house-elf until Neenie showed up…
He supposed he could have kept the little boy here, a perpetual child in his imaginary playground, but children did have a way of growing up, unless some terrible trauma had convinced them that it was unsafe to grow any older than they were.
And being smacked around a bit for crying too loudly, along with benign neglect, doesn't count as terrible trauma. It's still wrong on his parents' part, but it won't stall him where he is forever. Which means he's going to grow up, and there's always the possibility that when he does, he'll decide he wants his body back.
Dream-John flipped the little boy upside down, making him scream with laughter.
Simplest solution? Get him to agree to what Dad's other self suggested. Then find the best possible situation for him, and send him off. He's still young enough, unformed enough, that he can blend with almost anyone, given enough starting similarities.
Surreptitiously, he wiggled a finger at the kitten, who broke off her washing and trotted over. "Time for a makeover," he told her, and she let her jaw drop in a cat's smile.
Neenie amazes me sometimes. I never thought she would have been willing to go that deeply into her mind, to find an actual piece of herself who was still young and convince her to hop over here and play nice with little D. But we were both thinking at that point that this would be longer-term than it's turning out to be, and it wouldn't be good for him to have only dream-people around him for years and years. Even house-elves would be better—they may be squeaky, ungrammatical, and annoying, but they're still people.
Shaking himself out of his momentary philosophical interlude, he began to reshape Neenie-the-kitten's body, enlarging her to about twice her original size, morphing her skeleton from feline to canine, and turning her fur a shaggy gray. Just so he isn't too shocked, if he decides he likes what the dream-folks have to say.
"Watch this," dream-Danger was saying to the little boy now, pointing to dream-John. "See what he can do."
The transformation from sandy-haired man to tuft-tailed wolf had the boy clapping his hands. "Do 'gain," he demanded. "Do 'gain!"
"Can you say please?"
Dream-Danger laughed. "Very good. My turn now." She gave him a little push, sending him over to dream-John, who had retransformed. "In three, two, one…"
"Yay!" The boy applauded again as woman became wolf.
"You could learn to do that too, if you came to stay with us," dream-John interjected cannily. "Would you like that?"
The boy looked uncertain. "Neenie come too?" he asked, glancing over towards Fox, then did a comic double-take. "Neenie?"
Wolf-Neenie bounded over to him and licked his face, making him giggle and push her away. "Neenie! Yuck!"
And that's why I picked out the world I did to try and convince him to hop over to. Fox leaned back on his hands, surveying his work with satisfaction. It combines the manor, which is the only home he's ever known, with a strong influence for good from the word go, and adds on the one person he's been bonding with all this time. And when you toss in getting to learn how to turn into a wolf… or, in this case, changing automatically when the sun goes down…
"It's not a perfect world," he murmured, as dream-Danger got wolf-Neenie chasing her own tail. "But none of them are. He'll be as safe as they can make him, and he'll have the chance to build his life into whatever he wants it to be."
Which is all any of us can really hope for, for ourselves or for the people we're trying to help.
He summoned a dream-copy of the item he'd been working on in his treetop nest and raised it to his lips. It was time to see if he'd succeeded.
Because the next time I face the RC's, they won't get to have it all their own way.
I'm a Legendbreaker now, and we don't quit until we get results.
Where should we go first?
Neenie, unconsciously anticipating her father and brother, had the list of initials out already and was studying it. Underneath Fox's original, she had rewritten the sets in the groupings their spell had provided, then circled each group.
Four groups, four circles, four worlds…
At least we know the rules, the players, the layout. It's why Legendbreakers try to recruit people from each of the major series of worlds, because no matter how good you are at blending, nothing beats actually being native. Each world in a series is a little bit different, but there are enough similarities that we shouldn't set off anyone's radar too badly.
But they still needed exact directions, both in space and in time, before they could take on any of these missions. Their ridge covered seven fully Chronicled years, along with twenty or so indeterminate years, and the people they were looking for could be anywhere in that timespan.
Well, except one. Neenie smiled fondly at the three letters "MLB," which shared a circle with "SVB" and "ACB." It takes a direct intervention by a Chronicler to change someone's age or date of birth. The RC's wouldn't dare. So wherever in the worlds she may be, our little Pearl will still have been born on the first of June, 1983…
She stopped, blinking at the paper.
Which ought to be impossible. Unless they have a Chronicler's help, which, please, Safkhet, no. But unless they do…
"All right, Neenie, focus," she murmured aloud, setting the paper down on the table and doodling absently in the air, her fingers leaving multicolored trails behind. "Nothing says they have to explain where she came from, or tell the truth about how old she is. She never shows up in the ridge at all, so wherever they've stashed her, it's quiet, outside the stream of the story. We'll probably find her flirting with every boy she can find just to pass the time."
And we know she's somewhere, because she did exist. She was our pest of a little sister. We shouted at her, she drove us utterly mad, and we loved her. She smirked. Score one for our side—a person who's been loved is real, full stop, end of story, and cannot be destroyed by the RC's, no matter how hard they try. They can rehabilitate, but surprise, Pearl hasn't got any source character from our ridge to be rehabilitated to, so they're stuck with her as she is.
The glowing tangle at the ends of Neenie's fingers began to pulsate. "They took Fox a long way back on his rehabilitation," she said, needing the sound of a voice, any voice, even her own, to keep the thoughts from spinning inside her head until they exploded. "Almost as far as they could go, because they knew he couldn't be changed any other way. But everywhere within our series, even in the tells where she's older than she is in our main, Pearl was born within Chronicled years."
Which means they could take her back to the very beginning. Start at the first instant of her existence, and control everything she sees and hears and touches from that time on. How long could her memories of the Pack and Pride hold out if she's being, not just passively attacked the way Fox was, but actively worn down, taught that she doesn't matter, that she came from nowhere and deserves nothing?
"Which they believe." Neenie swallowed against the foul taste in the back of her mouth. "The RC's and whoever controls them, whoever pushes their buttons and points out the worlds to destroy and the ones to leave alone. Because she's native to a tell and not a ridge, they would say with perfect sincerity that she shouldn't be allowed to go on existing. And they'll try to make her believe it too."
They don't even have to do the dirty work of grinding her down themselves. I know plenty of people in our world who would love to do it for them, because of who she is and where she came from…
"And where she came from is Letha." Neenie raked her hands into her hair, making it shine momentarily green and blue, as the next step in the logical sequence came clear to her. "They'll start with Letha, they'll take her as soon as she's pregnant, or maybe even before—Safkhet, what if—"
A sudden certainty crashed through her, and she snatched up the list with her left hand and traced the rune for "time" with her right. Show me when they were placed, she demanded mentally, and touched the glowing glyph to the three sets of initials.
Two years appeared, one hovering over "SVB," the other between "ACB" and "MLB."
That's what I thought. Neenie set the list down, her throat painfully tight. That's what I thought. The worst possible time, for both of them. And if we come in openly and at full force, if we kick the door in with swords waving and guns blazing, then the RC's can use whatever weapons they like as well and the whole world could end up destroyed.
"Legendbreakers work in the shadows," Eve's voice murmured in Neenie's memory. "We do our best work in the unChronicled moments and the indeterminate times. Or if not, if we have to come into the open, we make one small change and let its consequences spread naturally."
"And even then, we have to be anonymous," Suzie's voice took over. "It has to be a case of, 'Who was that masked woman, anyway?'"
Or in my case, that masked cat. Neenie smiled thinly at her own joke and sat down at the table, pulling a pencil out of thin air to do some calculations.
Once we go into this world, our time is running. The RC's will notice any big interference with their work fairly quickly, and move to stop us from getting the other set of targets. And just to make it more fun, because all of us have had milestones at about a year's length of Inner Time—the culmination of my undercover work, and Dad's and Fox's stints under rehabilitation—that's our most natural entry point, a year after placement for each of our targets, and the RC's will know that and be double-blocking everywhen but then.
We may still be able to pull this off, but we're going to have to make it fast…
Why the hell did Kreacher suddenly decide it would be funny to damn near dislocate one of Buckbeak's wings?
Sirius Black swore as the hippogriff's viciously sharp beak clashed next to his ear. "Buckbeak! Cool it, for Merlin's sake! I'm trying to help you!"
Buckbeak squealed and kicked out with a hind leg, overturning a table. Sirius cursed again and levitated it to a corner behind him, out of his way. "Hold still, dammit. I can't help you if you won't hold still…"
At last, the wrenched wing was settled back into place, its feathers smoothed down and the bandage tied on over them. Sirius let out a breath of relief, raked a hand through his sweat-damp hair, and sat down on the floor, out of Buckbeak's way. "I'm getting too old for this," he muttered, starting to lean back on one elbow.
The elbow rapped into something hard, prompting the most vicious curse yet. "What the…" Sirius trailed off, staring down at the underside of the table.
Engraved into the wood, stained a rusty brown with what he suspected was blood, three uneven lines of lettering bore witness to a piece of his past he'd thought was nothing more than the pent-up desires of his twelve wasted years.
Meghan Lily Black
Born in this house, 1 June, 1983
Daughter of Sirius Black and Aletha Freeman
I am assuming that anyone reading this story is an informed HP fan and can therefore place the timing of the final scene in this chapter. I am further assuming that most of you have read my various AU's of DV (or, to use 'verse terminology, the spins and tells of DV main) and can therefore identify one of the two very similar stories where Fox plans to place "little D." If not, here's a hintâ€”one is posted on fanfiction (dot) net and one on fanficauthors.
Yeah, things are getting even weirder, aren't they? And I'm not done yet… there are plenty more bizarre twists and turns to follow, and SD is almost to tipping point! Keep reading and reviewing, and I'll keep writing!
Next chapter of this on Monday, and maybe, just maybe, a special surprise on Tuesday…